Doctor Gets One Year In Spanish Doping Case; Judge Orders Evidence Destroyed
Spanish doctor EUFEMIANO FUENTES, "the central figure in the Operation Puerto probe into a doping ring in cycling," got a one-year prison term on Tuesday as the judge ordered all evidence from the case to be destroyed, according to Mark Elkington of REUTERS. Fuentes -- "who is unlikely to be jailed because sentences under two years in Spain are usually suspended" -- was convicted for crimes against public health, barred from practicing sports medicine for four years and fined. Co-defendant IGNACIO LABARTA received a four-month jail term and was also barred from practice for four years, while MANOLO SAIZ, VICENTE BELDA and Fuentes' sister YOLANDA were all cleared. As Spain's current anti-doping legislation was not in force in 2006 when police seized anabolic steroids, transfusion equipment and blood bags in raids, the five "were tried only for violating public health regulations" (REUTERS, 4/30). BLOOMBERG'S Alex Duff reported Fuentes worked with LANCE ARMSTRONG'S former U.S. Postal Service teammate TYLER HAMILTON, among other elite riders. During the trial, Hamilton testified he paid Fuentes as much as €50,000 ($65,450) a year "to extract and later transfuse half-liter bags of blood during the season." Former Spanish rider JESUS MANZANO "blamed a transfusion of an incorrectly stored blood bag for keeling over" on a mountain climb at the '03 Tour de France. Judge PATRICIA SANTAMARIA rejected Manzano’s claim of €180,000 ($237,060) in damages (BLOOMBERG, 4/30).
JUDGE ORDERS EVIDENCE BE DESTROYED: The London TELEGRAPH'S Fiona Govan reported "in a move that will be deeply frustrating for anti-doping agencies," Santamaria denied a request to hand over evidence presented during the trial that might have led to further investigations and instead ordered blood bags and documents seized from Fuentes' clinic to be destroyed. The Spanish anti-doping agency said that "it would appeal against the destruction order to the country's Supreme Court." The blood bags will remain in storage in Barcelona until the appeal is heard. Anti-doping authorities, who were represented in court throughout the trial, had hoped to gain access to such evidence in the belief that it could help uncover wrongdoing by athletes in sports other than cycling. When he took the stand, Fuentes "confirmed that as well as cyclists he had clients in sports including football, boxing, tennis and athletics" (TELEGRAPH, 4/30).
'RIDICULOUS PENALTIES': EL CONFIDENCIAL'S Rubén Rodríguez opined "the biggest operation against doping in Spanish sport has ended how it began: with a lot of doubts and no harsh penalties." After seven years of waiting, investigations and interrogations, "the sanctions against those accused in the major network of prohibited substances in the national sport have left much to be desired." The public opinion "expected a penalty that would make an example, but what it got was far from it" (EL CONFIDENCIAL, 4/30).
SAIZ RELIEVED: MARCA reported Saiz could not hide his emotion after learning the sentence and confirming that he had been absolved of all charges. Saiz: "I'm thankful to my family, my friends and my lawyer. And thankful to a cyclist, CARLOS SASTRE." Sastre "supported Saiz in the most difficult moments." Saiz said, "Operation Puerto has ended and I hope nobody remembers me in any of this. I want to turn the page" (MARCA, 4/30).